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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

A view from the ground: Understand and cut risks of falls

I fall, you probably fall. In fact, anyone with mobility issues that include problems with balance is more than likely to fall from time to time.

fallsAnd that’s how I came to find myself sitting on the ground beside my car. My knee gave way as I was trying to transfer to the car from my wheelchair.

This happened just two days ago, after Lisa and I left a restaurant to head home. I tried and failed to get up, both by myself and with help. Then a police car pulled up and the two officers helped me to my feet.

That’s when things became a bit confused. First were communication problems as my basic Spanish language skills matched with one officer’s basic English abilities.

Anyway, after I established that alcohol was not involved, I explained that I had “esclerosis multiple” (pronounced ‘mool-ti-play’). So far, so good – but it became evident that police training does not go as far as MS. Despite my protestations, they wanted to ship me off to hospital and, so, called an ambulance.

At least the ambulance team understood MS, and quickly realized I did not wish to go to hospital. They explained the situation to the police, and said that I was ok to drive. Then we were on our way.

Overall, I felt that the whole experience may have been frustrating but I cannot fault the care from either the police or ambulance crew.

Give falls more thought

All that got me to think about last Friday (September 22) being Falls Prevention Awareness Day in the US. This is designed to encourage people with multiple sclerosis and others who are likely to fall to give more thought to why we fall.

Although the awareness day is coordinated by the National Council on Aging, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) this year presented research into MS-related falls, as well as resources to identify risk factors of falling.

This included the fact that typical MS symptoms, such as poor gait and balance, or the loss of perception of where body parts are, all contribute to your falls. These often happen at home, while you do everyday activities.

According to the NMSS, neurological symptoms are not the only factors as psychological issues are another risk area.  Further, fear of falling, overconfidence, or inactivity can also be factors.

“As MS changes over time and walking becomes more difficult, you may find that you resist accepting help,” the NMSS writes in its guide for minimizing the risk of falls.

It says: “Being able to walk confidently and independently is important, so the idea of losing that independence may be frightening. Tools and tips that can prevent future falls will help to keep you more independent rather than take your independence away… being receptive to them is half the battle.”

Another plus is that the NMSS has also developed the Free From Falls program. This contains eight modules with webinars, downloadable educational material and video-guided exercises.

These materials teach people like you and me about the various risk factors, and also offers tips and strategies to reduce the risk of falls.

I, for one, will be paying close attention.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Healthcare benefits under attack again

Cold-hearted policies and actions of government toward its own people is no surprise to my regular readers. And neither will there be any shock at my continued opposition to such disgusting activities.

benefits

The Capitol, Washington DC, home of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Unfortunately, this is not limited to one country. The current Conservative-led government in the UK has a despicable record in relation to vulnerable people. Now, though, what’s happening in the US seems to be just as bad.

A healthcare reform proposal known as Graham-Cassidy, named after its main protagonists, is currently before the Senate. And, if passed, it will limit healthcare benefits to those Americans who need them the most.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society and several patient and healthcare groups oppose the proposal, led by Republicans Senators Lindsay Graham (South Carolina), and Bill Cassidy (Louisiana).

Benefits funding cuts proposed

In headline terms, the Graham-Cassidy proposal would:

  • reduce funding for Medicaid, a benefits program on which so many people with MS depend
  • remove the Obamacare requirement that insurance policies cover basic, essential medical services
  • remove Obamacare’s protection for people who have pre-existing conditions.

The Republican party, the majority in the Senate, has a fight to pass the reform proposal. That is because, if the Senate doesn’t vote it through on or before this Friday, September 30, it will need more votes to move the proposal forward.

Up to the end of this week, the supporters will require only 50 votes but after that, according to the voting procedure, they will need 60 votes to move to a vote on the bill.

So, what happens if the Republicans miss this Friday’s deadline? Well, the good news is that followers of Washington politics believe it’s highly unlikely that the Republicans could gather 60 votes.

The current state of the parties in the Senate, is Republican 52, Democrat 46, and Independents 2.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Gene therapy prevents, even reverses, MS in animal model – new research

Multiple sclerosis can be inhibited, or even reversed, according to University of Florida researchers. They used a novel gene therapy technique that, they claim, stops the disease’s immune response in mouse models.

Obviously, if that can be reproduced in humans, it has the potential to be wonderful news.

The researchers paper is “Gene Therapy-Induced Antigen-Specific Tregs Inhibit Neuro-inflammation and Reverse Disease in a Mouse Model of Multiple Sclerosis”. Molecular Therapy published it last week.

gene therapyBy combining a brain-protein gene and an existing medication, researchers were able to prevent the mouse version of multiple sclerosis. Likewise, the treatments produced near-complete remission in the animal models.

Researchers said that their findings have significant potential for treating MS and other autoimmune disorders.

The paper says researchers used an adeno-associated virus, to deliver a brain protein gene into the livers of mouse models. The virus sparked production of so-called Tregs (regulatory T cells), which suppress the immune system attack that defines multiple sclerosis. The gene targeted the liver because it has the ability to induce immune tolerance.

Brad E Hoffman PhD is an assistant professor in pediatrics and neuroscience at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He said: “Using a clinically tested gene therapy platform, we are able to induce very specific regulatory cells that target the self-reactive cells that are responsible for causing multiple sclerosis.”

Encouraged by longevity of gene therapy

Hoffman says he Is encouraged by the longevity of the gene therapy. Mouse models treated with gene therapy showed no signs of disease after seen months. He compared It with a group of untreated mouse models that had neurological problems after 14 days.

The protein was combined with rapamycin — a drug used to coat heart stents and prevent organ transplant rejection — and researchers found its effectiveness was further improved.

We chose this drug because it allows helpful regulatory T-cells to proliferate while blocking undesirable effector T-cells, Hoffman said.

Further research is needed before tests of the therapy in humans are carried out in a clinical trial, Hoffman said. Researchers also need to target the full suite of proteins that are implicated in multiple sclerosis, he added.

Still, Hoffman said he is extremely optimistic that the gene therapy can be effective in humans.

“If we can provide long-term remission for people and a long-term quality of life, that is a very promising outcome,” he said.

The research was funded by grants from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Institutes of Health and the Children’s Miracle Network.

My view is that while it is still early days, the results so far seem very encouraging. I look forward to learning about further developments as time progresses.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Care cuts put those in need at risk

Vulnerable people are at risk because social work budgets cuts make it impossible to prepare meaningful care packages. And that is besides cuts to the government’s welfare benefits.

It’s the job of social workers to assess what support someone needs to keep them safe and able to live independently. Community Care magazine and the Care and Support Alliance, of which the MS Society is a member, surveyed social workers. The survey asked about the challenges they face trying to get people the care they need.

social workersIn response, the social workers criticised the devastating impact cuts are having on people who rely on care and support.

Almost 500 UK social workers took part in the survey. Their comments reveal the incredibly difficult position they’re often in, as they increasingly have to restrict or remove care entirely. What’s more, that is due solely to lack of resources, as local councils struggle to balance their budgets.

One social worker said: “[There is] strong pressure from my line manager and commissioners to reduce costs as a main priority.”

Meanwhile, another commented: “Colleagues constantly battle to keep packages at an adequate level to support clients.”

Social workers tell of appalling cuts in care

Their descriptions of what cuts can mean in practice to people who need care were appalling:

One wrote: “A person with hoarding issues and a tendency to eat rotten food had their shopping and housework call cut, resulting in an admission to hospital with food poisoning.”

Another response said: “The person requires support with walking to the bathroom, but due to the cost he is now required to contribute towards it. [Instead,] he has decided he would rather have the risk of falling than [pay for] an evening call.”

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell, said: “This report lays bare the realities social workers face thanks to a system that hasn’t been properly funded for decades. Our own research shows that too many people with MS are bearing the brunt of cuts. One in three [are] not getting support with essential everyday tasks.

“The government has promised to improve the social care system and additional funding and reform has to come quickly. People who desperately rely on care shouldn’t be forced to keep paying the price.”

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Link between low levels of Vitamin D and risk of MS ever stronger

A new study has underlined the value of vitamin D in the fight against multiple sclerosis.

People with low levels of vitamin D are at greater risk than others of developing MS, a new study shows.

The study looked at stored blood samples of 800,000 pregnant Finnish women.

vitamin dVitamin levels of 1,092 women, who were later diagnosed with MS, were compared to those of 2,123 women around the same age and region who did not develop the disease. The women who went on to develop MS had lower average vitamin D levels than other women.

The study, titled “25-Hydroxyvitamin D deficiency and risk of MS among women in the Finnish Maternity Cohort”, was published last week in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to the USA’s National MS Society website:

Researchers believe that several genetic and environmental factors influence whether a person will get MS. These factors may also impact the severity of the disease.

Scientists are eager to find risk factors for MS that can be modified to possibly prevent MS and reduce disease activity. Research is increasingly pointing to reduced levels of vitamin D in the blood as a risk factor for developing MS. Studies are underway to determine if vitamin D levels influence MS disease activity.

Increased vitamin D equals lower risk of MS

The team found that overall as vitamin D levels increased, the risk of later developing MS decreased. Women with the greatest deficiency in vitamin D had a twofold increase in the risk of developing MS. And those with the highest vitamin D levels had the lowest risk of a later MS diagnosis.

Most of the women in the study were considered to have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D. Of the women who developed MS, 58 percent had deficient levels of vitamin D, compared to 52 percent of the women who did not develop the disease. The researchers conclude that the results directly support vitamin D deficiency as a risk factor for MS and that correcting this among reproductive age women may reduce their future risk of developing MS.

As we who have MS wait impatiently to find a cure, we welcome every new study with good news of one kind or another.

We must greet all such studies as successful steps along the journey to defeat this insidious disease.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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HSCT is superior to DMTs say Swedish researchers

At last, independent researchers have endorsed autologous hematopoietic stem cell tranplantation (HSCT) as a treatment of choice for multiple sclerosis.

Well, treatment for relapsing MS, anyway.

The study “Autologous haematopoietic stem cell transplantation for neurological diseases” was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. In it, Swedish researchers, from Uppsala University, say autologous HSCT is superior to currently approved disease modifying therapies (DMTs).

hsctOn top of that, they say, in the study, that procedure’s safety profile has improved, and is now just as good as approved medications.

So far, so good. But, from my point of view, it is only a start. The report says that the benefits of stem cell transplants for patients with progressive MS is moderate at best.

I don’t agree with the suggestion that attempts to use HSCT to treat people with progressive MS should be limited to clinical trials. The treatment is more effective with the relapsing form, but it is also successful in tackling the progressive types.

Now, we need HSCT to be approved for treating MS by the FDA and regulatory bodies around the world. We have been waiting long enough.

No evidence of disease activity (NEDA) is now a serious indicator in studies of MS therapies. It is a comprehensive measure that takes into account disease activity in MRI scans, the presence of relapses and disability progression.

HSCT scores better at NEDA

A number of studies showed that 68 to 70 percent of patients maintained NEDA four to five years after HSCT. In comparison, of DMT patients treated at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, only 7.9 percent had NEDA at seven years.

Meanwhile, in clinical trials of newer drugs such as Tysabri (natalizumab) or Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), only 32 to 39 percent of patients maintained NEDA at two years.

Researchers noted that clinical trials or other studies of Tysabri or Tecfidera (dimethyl fumarate) found no improvements in patients’ health-related quality of life.

Meanwhile, one study of transplanted MS patients showed an improvement of nearly four times what is considered as a clinically meaningful improvement at two years. Improvements were in both physical and mental health.

So, HCST:

  • is superior to DMTs
  • is as safe as DMTs
  • achieves ‘no evidence of disease activity’ with more people and for longer than other therapies

What more do we need to know?

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Department helpline worker lambasts mismanaged disability benefits system

Once again, we have a story of government mishandling of disability benefits and allegations of the existence of targets. Targets that don’t officially exist, as if we believe that.

dwp

Photo: The Independent.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) insider has described to the Disability News Service (DNS) that a “mismanaged” and under-funded social security system is leaving many disability benefit claimants penniless and helpless. And those claimants include people with MS and other disabilities.

George (name changed to protect his anonymity) works on DWP’s employment and support allowance (ESA) helpline. He told DNS that the experience has left him shocked and frustrated at the deeply flawed system.

Also, he says he believes – although he does not have direct evidence of this – that DWP decision-makers do have targets for the proportion of claimants that they need to find “fit for work”, and so ineligible for ESA.

DWP decision-maker ‘hates job’

Additionally, George claimed that a colleague in another part of DWP, who actually works with a decision-maker, told him that the decision-maker hates his job. This is because he must “disallow people” and was “struggling to hit his disallowance targets”.

DNS has been unable to verify this claim, but disabled activists have been warning for years that they believe DWP decision-makers, and the healthcare professionals who work for the government contractor Maximus, are set targets for the proportion of claimants they must find fit for work.

DWP has continued to deny imposing any such targets and no-one has been able to provide strong evidence that they exist. Even George says he believes such targets do exist, although he cannot prove it.

“I think decision-makers are trying to meet targets,” he told DNS.

No disparaging story about the DWP’s management, or mismanagement, will ever surprise me. I hope you feel the same way.

Read Disability News Service’s full report here.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Impact of MS on life need not always be negative

MS does impact my life. That may seem to be an obvious statement but let’s look a little deeper. There is more to this than meets the eye.

Yes, of course, this disease has many negative impacts on me, my life and my loving wife Lisa. But not every impact is necessarily negative. What? I hear you ask, have I found some ways in which MS has had a positive effect?

The answer has to be ‘yes’, no doubt about that.

Naturally, I can only talk about myself and not everyone’s experience will be the same. But, hey, that is multiple sclerosis – where no two people have exactly the same symptoms.

My symptoms mainly impact my mobility and balance so, outdoors, I need mobility aids. I use a rollator (basically a walker on wheels with brakes and a seat on which to rest) for short distances and a wheelchair for anything longer. I also have to cope with urinary urgency and continence issues.

So, what ‘positives’ can I draw from having MS?

Positive impact

There are many, including:

  • meeting a host of people, both in person and by telephone or online, that I would otherwise not have met;
  • new and often unexpected friendships;
  • writing for both MS and medical online publications;
  • using an electric powered wheelchair to restore some independence and to give Lisa a break from pushing me around;
  • visiting Moscow, somewhere I never thought I’d go, to check out its HSCT centre. My existing (non-MS) health did not make me a suitable candidate but the visit was worthwhile. And I saw the Kremlin, Red Square, the home of the Bolshoi Ballet, the former headquarters of the KGB, and more;
  • avoiding queues, or lines. From Radio City Music Hall, New York, through getting on and off cruise ships, to taking commercial airline flights, wheelchair users are given special and welcome treatment;
  • courteous treatment. Wherever I go, staff of shops, restaurants, everywhere are only too happy to help. And, more than that, even members of the public are willing to open doors, clear a way for me, and generally offer assistance.

These are just some examples. It’s by no means meant to be an exhaustive list.

Someone I have known for some time asked me the other day: “Surely, you don’t mean that you feel good about having MS?”

No, of course I don’t. Naturally, I’d be much happier to have a clean bill of health. But, as that isn’t the case, let’s make the best of it.

MS is not a reason to give up.

We are warriors. We must all look for the best in life and fight on.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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impact50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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I said it 14 months ago, now researchers agree: MS is linked to ‘mono’

Great news. Science now backs my view, published here on July 14 last year, that MS is linked to glandular fever. The Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes mononucleosis or just mono, otherwise known as glandular fever. Researchers have just uncovered what they describe as a biological link between EBV and MS.

Fourteen months ago, in this blog, I posted an article titled MS is linked to Glandular Fever, I have no doubt: In it, I wrote:

“In my mind, MS is linked to glandular fever. From personal experience, there is no room for doubt of any kind.

“Trouble is, though, that my experience and belief is not proof. And that is why I find that efforts to establish a definite link between glandular fever, often known as the kissing disease, and MS is an exciting area of research.”

And that’s what they have now done.

biological link

Dr Annette Langer-Gould (pic: Kaiser Permanente Research).

Researchers led by Dr Annette Langer-Gould1 have now found a link between EBV and MS in three racial-ethnic groups. African-Americans and Latinos showing a higher risk for MS than Caucasians.

The research study, “Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, and multiple sclerosis susceptibility,” was published in the journal Neurology.

In the past, other studies have suggested that EBV infection, which causes mononucleosis/glandular fever, increases the risk for MS.

Strong biological link

“Previous studies that have found a link between mononucleosis and MS have looked primarily at white populations, so for our study, we examined whether there was a similar link for other racial groups as well,” Dr Langer-Gould said in a press release. “Indeed, we did find a strong biological link for all three racial groups.

“While many people had Epstein-Barr virus antibodies in their blood, we found among all three groups, people who also developed mono in their teen years or later had a greater risk of MS. Delaying Epstein-Barr virus infection into adolescence or adulthood may be a critical risk factor for MS,” she said.

Recently, infection with cytomegalovirus (CMV), has been controversially linked to increased risk of MS. But researchers report that there was NO link for CMV. Instead, they found an inconsistent association across racial-ethnic groups. Antibodies against CMV are associated with a lower risk of MS, or clinically isolated syndrome, in Latinos. But this was not the case in African-Americans or Caucasians.

Overall, the researchers say that their results point to a strong biological link between EBV infection and MS. The say the results also highlight how understanding of the factors underlying MS can be greatly improved by multiethnic studies.

“Studies like ours that include participants from multiple racial groups can be a strong tool to test for biological risk factors, especially when the frequency of exposures to biological factors like Epstein-Barr virus and mononucleosis differ between groups. If the findings were not the same across all groups, it would be less likely that a link would be biological,” Langer-Gould said.

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1 Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD, is a Research Scientist in the Department of Research & Evaluation and serves as Regional Physician Multiple Sclerosis Champion at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. She is a practicing MS specialist at Los Angeles Medical Center.

Her epidemiologic research focuses on the role of vitamin D, genotype, race/ethnicity, and MS susceptibility, as well as predictors of prognosis and comparative effectiveness of MS therapeutics.

Dr Langer-Gould also leads a team developing, implementing, and evaluating programs to provide high-quality affordable care for individuals with MS.

She serves as co-chair of the Choosing Wisely Committee. She is a member of the Guidelines Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee for the American Academy of Neurology. Additionally, she is a member of the National MS Society’s MS Prevalence Workgroup.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

I suppose, by now, that the ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not surprise me. And while that is true, what does amaze me is its ability to keep proving it – over and over again.

Right now, besides all its usual carryings on, the department is fighting two similar but separate battles. It is trying its best, or maybe its worst, to hide information from the public. Information that we have a right to know.

hide

Photo: The Independent

First, the DWP is trying to hide from public scrutiny a report showing how well assessment company Maximus is doing. The company carries out the controversial, and widely despised, work capability assessment (WCA) for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It also includes a look at Atos’s record as far back as 2011.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the release of a copy of the report, which would give a breakdown of Maximus’s performance at each assessment centre. The DWP, however, is refusing to publish it and is now taking the case to an information tribunal.

Under-performance could damage reputations

The DWP claims that the information could “give a perception of under-performance’ which could ‘damage the reputation and standing of the companies involved”.

Duh, that’s the point. We all know the WCAs are a mess, this report would go towards proving just how bad it is. And the DWP as good as admits that the report could damage the standing of both Maximus and Atos.

The government ministry is therefore claiming that the report is exempt from disclosure because publishing it could damage the commercial interests of both Maximus and Atos, as well as the DWP itself.

Its second fight is to hide differences between Atos and Capita assessments, this time for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),

This time the DWP is refusing to release training materials which would potentially highlight difference between the way that Atos and Capita carry out PIP assessments, according to Benefits and Work (B&W).

DWP refuses Freedom of Information request to hide facts

hideBack in June, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information Act request for training and guidance materials issued by Atos to staff carrying out PIP assessments. Detailed guidance covers issues such as the way in which requests for the recording of PIP assessments are dealt with.

However, the DWP refused to release the guidance on the grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The campaigning website asked the DWP to reconsider its decision. B&W says these are not commercially confidential matters and there is a strong public interest in how PIP is administered on a day-to-day basis.

It says: “If there is a difference in how PIP is managed by different companies, then this is also a strong matter of public interest. Claimants ought to be able to be sure that their assessment is a standardised one and not one based on which company carries it out.”

The DWP, however, is having none of it. Once again, it continues to hide the documents because it considers them to be commercially confidential.

DWP says “commercially confidential” tag exempts it from FoI

The DWP said: “Release of this information would reveal to their competitors commercially sensitive information which would disadvantage IAS’s (Independent Assessment Service, the name that Atos now uses) competitive position in the marketplace.

“This in turn would prejudice the ability of the department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered. Release of this type of key financial information would also undermine the effectiveness of the department’s future dealings with IAS or other service providers.”

A B&W spokesman said: “The DWP now routinely refuses a large proportion of freedom of information requests on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It does this without attempting to justify in any way how anyone’s interests would be threatened.

“Benefits and Work is now applying to the Information Commissioner to have the documents disclosed.”

I receive both ESA and DLA, because of disability caused by MS. As such, I cannot allow horrendous cover-ups like these to go unchallenged – and I urge you to do the same. Public interest and freedom of information must triumph over so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’.

That is just a smokescreen behind which the DWP is using to hide the facts…the facts we need and deserve to see.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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